Emil Kaufmann

"Giambattista Piranesi" in Architecture in the Age of Reason

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248. Careen d'invenzione di G. B. Piranesi, archit. vene[ziano] (n. pl., n.d.); (Focillon, Catalogue, p. 12, E) .

In the publication which is famous as Piranesi's greatest achievement, the "Prisons" of 1745,248 neither antiquity nor architecture proper play any considerable role. I shall not comment on their pictorial or graphic qualities, for only their architectural content interests us. Rooms of tremendous dimensions are depicted. They are crammed with a great variety of nonarchitectural objects which visualize space by their contrasting directions and their different levels: poles, ropes, banners, beams, chains, ladders, etc. These objects produce a three-dimensional impression, but they are far from forming a unified whole. (Again , I have the architectural design in mind, not the pictorial representation with the binding floods of light and shadows.) The elements act against each other; each is a menace to all. It is a pandemonium of hostile forces; disorder and uproar are regnant. Thus the objects visualize and, at the same time, decompose space. Together with traditional features, the concept of unified and integral space has gone.




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